Why It’s So Difficult for Artists to Stop Politicians From Using Their Songs

Pharrell sent Trump a cease-and-desist letter, but it likely won't change much.

Like many artists before him, Pharrell sent Trump a cease-and-desist letter  this week to dissuade the President from using his songs without permission — but does it matter?

Unfortunately for the Happy singer and other musicians like The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, R.E.M., Twisted Sister, Adele, Queen, Elton John, Steven Tyler and the estates of George Harrison, Prince and Luciano Pavarotti, it’s difficult to actually enforce such an order.

Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler had his lawyer evoke Section 43 of the Lanham Act in one of their numerous attempts to tell Trump to Dream On when it came to using their famous ballad at his rallies. The Lanham Act refers to “the confusion or dilution of a trademark (such as a band or artist name) through its unauthorized use,” according to The Guardian. Tyler’s lawyer argued that by using Aerosmith’s music at his rallies, Trump was confusing people into aligning the band with his campaign.

But, as The Guardian explains, when campaign rallies are held in large venues in front of a big group of people, the arenas typically have a “performance rights organization” license from major music publishers, allowing them to play virtually any music they want.

The only in a musician might have in these cases is if a campaign plays a song so often that it begins to come across as a “false endorsement.” A loophole that R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe couldn’t quite enforce after Trump played his It’s the End of the World As We Know It back in 2015.

“Go f–k yourselves, the lot of you – you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men,” Stipe said in a statement at the time. “Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.